The biggest game of Antetokounmpo’s career brings the Bucks back to the series in Game 3

The biggest game of Antetokounmpo’s career brings the Bucks back to the series in Game 3

The biggest game of Antetokounmpo’s career brings the Bucks back to the series in Game 3

We have a series.

In the first Milwaukee Bucks Finals game at home in 47 years, they did not disappoint an angry crowd inside the Fiserv Forum or the 25,000 or so people outside the arena who saw it all on the big screen.

The Bucks were largely in control before they opened it wide with a dominant third quarter to set the table for a 120-100 victory. The Bucks will need to continue their momentum in Game 4 on Wednesday, but nothing happened in Game 3 to think that that can’t happen.

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The biggest game of Antetokounmpo’s career brings the Bucks back to the series in Game 3

Some conclusions:

1. Somewhere, Eric Bledsoe had to be shaking his head. After being sidelined in the playoffs in consecutive years, both times as a top seed in the Eastern Conference, there would surely be changes in Milwaukee. First, the Toronto Raptors and then the Miami Heat showed they could stop Giannis Antetokounmpo by building a wall of defenders in the lane where the two-time MVP has always done most of his damage. The key to that was ditching Bledsoe on the perimeter and packing up the paint.

It worked because, despite all of Bledsoe’s strengths, he’s been an NBA defender three times in his career, including his last two seasons in Milwaukee, he’s not a reliable deep threat under pressure. Against the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019, he shot 5 of 29, most of them with open looks. Against the Heat in 2020 he was 3 of 14 in the four games he played. Milwaukee had seen enough and made Bledsoe the centerpiece of an off-season blockbuster that led to Jrue Holiday. It was a total gamble.

The Bucks sent three future first-round picks to New Orleans and recently signed the 31-year-old to a four-year contract extension worth $ 135 million. Up to this point? The returns have not justified the investment. Holiday came into Game 3 having made just 1 of 7 triples and averaging just 13.5 points per game. A tweet from Stat Muse was even scarier if you’re a Bucks fan. In a side-by-side comparison, there was essentially no difference between the two players.

Holiday’s struggles seemed to continue in Game 3. He hit his first three, but missed the next four and hit 1-of-5 from deep in the first half. But Holiday kept firing and the lid finally came off.

In the crucial third quarter, the Bucks point guard hit 4 of 5 3s as Milwaukee opened the game with a 30-9 run. He finished with 21 points on 14 shots and it was a record of +22. If it can be the three-point threat the Bucks need to pressure Antetokounmpo, this could turn out to be as competitive a series as many were predicting.

two. It is difficult to have a favorite in this series. If you’re not yet a fan of Phoenix or Milwaukee, there are plenty of stories prepared to pique your interest. Seeing Chris Paul culminate his Hall of Fame career with a ring is obvious; Similarly, seeing Antetokounmpo get a title to silence his critics after failing to follow regular MVP seasons successfully into the playoffs would be a good feeling.

So far, both directors are doing their part. But in addition to Antetokounmpo playing most of the postseason, he was in his prime in Game 3. The knee injury that kept him out of the last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals is far behind and not just If Antetokounmpo finished with 41 points and 13 rebounds on 14 of 23 shooting, his six assists appeared to be quick and smart reads in which he found teammates for easy baskets, making the Suns pay to overwhelm him. He got DeAndre Ayton into foul trouble and shot 13 of 17 from the free throw line.

He’s had some big games on this Bucks streak, his 40-13 effort in Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets comes to mind, but since the Bucks were facing the possibility of going 0-3, it might have been the one. most important game of his career. career. And he did it easily and comfortably, and elevated his peers in the process. If Antetokounmpo is healthy, confident and fluid, the Suns should be very concerned.

3. One of the hardest things to train or learn is shooting touch. It is different from shooting. Many below-average perimeter shooters have become proficient or even good at focusing on their mechanics, footwork, and shot selection. It takes time, but almost anyone who’s a good enough athlete to make it to the NBA is talented enough to figure out how to throw the ball well enough to be average or better. But touch is a different thing.

Touch is all it takes to take difficult shots – on the move, in traffic, in contact, from different angles. Good hands are needed when catching, the ability to balance or adjust when out of balance; it takes skill to use different shots in different situations, but most of all it adds up to the ball rising high and landing softly, no matter how chaotic the shooting circumstances are.

All of which is to say, Sun’s third-year center DeAndre Ayton has incredible touch. It may be the most subtle of his many gifts – it takes a while to get over how smoothly he moves and runs even though he’s over six feet tall. But once you do, it’s hard not to be surprised at how often Ayton makes difficult shots look easy. The ball rolls off your fingers with a bow and twist, even when it’s tight. He never seems to be out of control or rushed and his shots seem to have that magical quality where they hit the rim and ultimately land instead of rolling.

Ayton shot 63.9 percent from the floor in the regular season, and during the first 18 postseason games of his career, he shot 69.5 percent from the floor. In the third quarter, as the Bucks prepared to flee with victory, Chris Paul hit Ayton in motion in the paint, stopped under control and threw a float with one hand that only touched the mesh. At that time he made 8 of 10 shots from the field. It finished 8 of 11, and its production was limited by some foul problems. But watching him catch and finish so easily is really nice.

Bedroom I saw a good number of Canadian matches at the U19 World Cup last week. Canada finished third, losing a semi-final match to the United States before recovering and taking over Serbia in the consolation final to win the bronze medal. One of Canada’s best players on a deep team was Zach Edey, an eight-foot center from Toronto heading into his second season at Purdue. He averaged 15.1 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks and was named to the all-star team of the tournament.

It will be interesting to see what the future of basketball holds for him. The value of traditional greats has never been less in the NBA, but there is still a place for them. If I were Edey, I would make Brook Lopez my role model. López is huge, but not a gazelle. He has been able to go from being a first choice at the low post to being a complementary offensive player who can shoot 3-pointers when wide open while still finishing in the paint. But what Lopez does very well as a great ‘traditional’ is protect well in fall coverage.

The Bucks are not asking Lopez to chase guards around the perimeter. They keep you in the lane. But López is not standing still. He does a great job of fooling the ball handler while maintaining control over the moving big man and ready to protect the rim as well. It is the art of being in two places at the same time. Edey has miles to go before he is ready for the NBA. You need to develop the ability to finish with both hands in the paint; square up and shoot from at least 15-18 feet and be a good free throw shooter. But write all that down and it will be your ability to defend as Lopez of the Bucks that will determine your future in the NBA.

5. As good as the Suns are, I can’t help but wonder how much better they could be. They got to this point by making three good decisions on draft night, so give them some credit. Devin Booker was a fantastic pick at 13th overall in 2015, but then the Suns failed hugely when they took Dragan Bender in fourth in 2016, passing Jamal Murray, Buddy Hield and Jakob Poeltl, among others, and Josh Jackson. fourth in 2017, missing out on De’Aaron Fox; Donovan Mitchell and Bam Adebayo.

But just like investing, you can get big returns on some smart decisions in the draft, erasing past sins. Ayton No. 1’s writing has generally worked, including with Luka Doncic and Trae Young as potential future MVP candidates. The acquisition of Mikal Bridges on draft night in 2018 was brilliant and then Cam Johnson on draft night in 2019 almost equally. Johnson came close to holding the Suns to just 10 points off the bench on 4 of 5 shots, including a massive dunk in which he nearly dropped PJ Tucker, who was unsuccessfully trying to get off a charge.

It’s not the first time Johnson has offered an instant open when the Suns have needed a spark. His success is proof that teams don’t need to be perfect on draft night, but they do have to make the right decisions enough.